THE READER
December 2006

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Newsbites

Reprinted with permission.

More support for vegetarian diets

Scientific studies support the health value of plant-based diets. In a recent study of more than 55,000 Swedish women, Tufts University researcher P. Kirstin Newby and her colleagues found that 40 percent of meat-eaters were overweight or obese while only 25 to 29 percent of vegetarians and vegans were. Worldwide, vegetarian populations experience lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Another new study shows that eating vegetables protects brain function in aging adults. As part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), researchers at Rush University Medical Center examined the association between rates of cognitive change and dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables among 3,718 participants, aged 65 years and older. Those who consumed greater than 2.8 servings of vegetables per day had significantly slower rates of mental decline than those who ate fewer servings. Green leafy vegetables in particular were most strongly associated with a decreased rate of mental decline. Fruit consumption was not associated with cognitive change.
-Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

California enacts historic global warming law

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a landmark law in October aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. The new law establishes the first U.S. cap on greenhouse gas emissions and stands in stark contrast to the federal government’s failure to impose mandatory reductions of emissions linked to global warming.

The law specifically calls on the state to cut emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020—a 25 percent reduction. An executive order signed by Schwarzenegger calls for the state to ultimately cut emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The details of the program have yet to be determined, but businesses across the state expect to be hit with strict emission limits. Companies subject to the new limits would be allowed to trade carbon dioxide emission allowances in a market—similar to how sulfur dioxide emissions credits are traded today under federal legislation.

The new law requires the state’s Air Resources Board to adopt regulations to enable a cap and trade program and gives the board the authority to enforce the regulations beginning in 2012.

In the interim, the board will begin to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of the industries it determines as significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental groups hailed the signing of the law and called it a turning point in international efforts to address global warming. California has often been the environmental pioneer in the United States and it is the world’s 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases. -Environment News Service

Walnuts improve artery flexibility

A new study from the American Journal of Cardiology shows that adding walnuts (a healthy plant source of omega-3 fatty acid) to a high-fat meal reduces negative changes in arteries. Researchers from Barcelona’s Hospital Clinical compared how arteries are affected by five teaspoons of olive oil versus eight walnuts when added to a fatty meal. While both walnuts and olive oil decreased inflammation, walnuts increased the elasticity and flexibility of the arteries (called flow-mediated dilation, or FMD) by 24 percent for those with high cholesterol, and FMD was unchanged in the healthy control group. In comparison, those who consumed olive oil showed a 36 percent and 17 percent decrease in FMD for high-cholesterol and control participants, respectively. -Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Scientists to study whether GE foods can cause food allergies

The potential of genetically engineered foods to cause allergic reactions in humans is a big reason for opposition to such crops. To date, there have been no definitive tests to determine if GE crops do cause food allergies. However, Venu Gangur, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University, is confident he can develop such a test, and has received $447,000 from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to validate the test.

Genetically engineered crops are created by inserting a protein from a different organism into the genome of a food crop, such as corn or soybeans. This protein may have never been in the food supply before, and could potentially cause food allergies.

Food allergies are a serious health concern affecting an estimated 12 million Americans. Food allergy symptoms include difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, drop in blood pressure, and even loss of consciousness and death. Eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, such as cashews and walnuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

Gangur believes he has developed the first animal model to test whether genetically engineered foods could cause human allergic reactions. Gangur and students in his lab will use the EPA grant to examine whether the mouse model works on a variety of proteins. If successfully validated, the testing could be available commercially in about five years. “Our aim is to develop a test that would show whether GM foods cause allergic reactions or not,” says Gangur. -Organic Consumers Association

Systematic interference with science at Interior Department exposed

High-ranking political appointees within the Department of the Interior have rewritten numerous scientific documents to prevent the protection of several highly imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald personally reversed scientific findings, changed scientific conclusions to prevent endangered species from receiving protection, removed relevant information from a scientific document, and ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to adopt her edits. All of these actions show a blatant disregard for the Endangered Species Act provision, which requires species protection decisions to be based on the best available science.

Documents recently obtained by several conservation organizations show that MacDonald, an engineer with no training in biology, and other Interior officials personally edited scientific documents to change the conclusions of wildlife biologists with FWS regarding what species are eligible for Endangered Species Act protection. Affected species include the greater sage grouse, the Gunnison sage grouse, the white-tailed prairie dog, the Gunnison’s prairie dog, a fish known as the roundtail chub, and a tree found in the Mariana Islands. -Union of Concerned Scientists